The Trudeau government has come under fire from some major Jewish organizations after Canada’s representative at the UN voted last month in support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the right to an independent state.
One editorial in a local weekly even referred to the vote as “appeasement” because it was a break with recent voting history at the UN, ostensibly an effort to win support for Canada’s campaign to gain a seat in the Security Council.
In fact, the vote came in the aftermath of the announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. no longer supports the 1978 State Department legal opinion that West Bank settlements of Israeli civilians were “inconsistent” with international law. In the first instance, Canada’s vote was our country’s way of stating that we do not share the view, advocated by Israel, that the settlements are legal under international law.
Canadian policy, in fact, has not changed through decades of Liberal, Progressive Conservative and Conservative governments. It includes the position that the settlements are illegal. Canadian policy remains in favour of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. It states that the Israeli settlements are “a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive just and lasting peace.” When it comes to Jerusalem, which Trump has recognized as Israel’s capital, its final status must be part of an overall settlement of the dispute. Canada does not recognize Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.
Canada’s new foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, told reporters just after he was sworn in that it would be a mistake to read too much into this vote. But there was a break from the overall record. It has been noted that our representative at the UN has declined to support substantially the same resolution through 14 consecutive votes since Stephen Harper came to power in 2006. Observed Champagne: “Our friendship with Israel is strong, we’ll always be there …but there are times [when] Canada [has] to vote with respect to its principles on this issue.”
This is not the first time that our position on a UN vote has rankled major Jewish organizations. The last time was when we abstained in June 2018 on a UN general assembly resolution condemning the use by Israel of excessive force in response to demonstrations in the Gaza strip next to the boundary with Israel.
What about Canada’s role in helping to resolve what has become the world’s most intractable conflict? When a veteran Middle East correspondent told a public meeting here this fall (see page 5) that “the two-state solution is dead” the seasoned observer was reflecting on the facts on the ground: For years now there have been no major developments, no movement or high-level meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials to advance the Oslo Accords that were to lead to two states for two peoples between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements are becoming more entrenched, and infrastructure to serve its residents has increased.
Certainly, since the carnage of the Second Intifada, most Israelis are fearful of an independent Palestinian state next door, based on the Green Line – the armistice lines that followed the 1948 war that were recognized as effective borders. The distance from the pre-1967 Green Line to the Mediterranean at its narrowest point is only 16 kilometers. Most Israelis are leery of a prospective Palestinian state sharing its border, without the current level of Israeli surveillance and control under the Occupation. The emergence of such radical groups that reject Israel as a Jewish state, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the weak and ineffective leadership of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and fears that rejectionist factions would take over if free elections were held are ever present in the minds of Israeli voters. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White rival Benny Gantz support a two-state solution. But this could change if new leadership emerges on both sides along with a willingness to re-engage.
If Canada does garner enough support to gain a seat in the Security Council, our government could be positioned to help restart talks and possible encourage a compromise over the outstanding issues. Certainly, the desire has to start in Israel and among the Palestinians. If our vote at the UN in favour of Palestinian self-determination enhances our standing as an even-handed broker, while we support Israel’s right to a secure existence, so much the better.